Saturday, 16 October 2010

New interview with Annie

Annie: Hi Tom. It’s been a couple of years since we met up and chatted about horses.

Tom: Yep, it has, and it feels like a lot has happened since then.

Annie: So I’m really interested in what you have been getting up to with the horse-work. Any huge changes?

Tom: Well, I wouldn’t say ‘huge changes’ but yes, we have moved things along quite a way. I’d say all the important stuff is still in place. Working on softness and feel – you never get to the end of that job. But what we have done is made some dramatic changes to our ridden work.

Annie: Oh that’s interesting – cos you were always known as a trainer who didn’t ride much. Are you riding a lot these days?

Tom: Yeah, I do ride quite a bit. I like going out to check the cows. I’m still not a particularly accomplished rider, but I love the work we are doing now. It all makes so much sense to me. I feel like I have finally found out how to ‘be with the horse’ while I am riding him. That was always such a mystery to me – I felt like I couldn’t find the key to that one. But now I’ve got it.

Annie: Go on then, tell me.

Tom: Well, it’s simple stuff actually. I guess in a sentence I’d say, ‘get your horse in balance with you, in the moment, and you’ve got him, right there with you, and that’s it’.

Annie: That doesn’t mean much to me Tom. Explain what you mean by that?

Tom: Well, for years I heard people saying stuff like ‘get your horse off the forehand’ and I had not the slightest idea what they were on about. I presumed it was something that happens to you when you reach a level of riding skill way beyond what I was ever going to get to. I don’t really believe that anymore. I reckon most people (and horses) can get to it. And that’s what I mean by balance. You and the horse balanced with the weight on all four feet. I remember Mark saying once, when he sits on his horse he feels like he is sitting on a ball that could go anyway. When I heard that I thought, mmm that sounds good – well, that’s what it feels like when your horse is in balance.

The thing is, once you open this door, everything starts to make sense. Suddenly straightness is in sight, suddenly it’s imperative that the horse is not bracing, and suddenly it’s important you are not bracing either. It’s important that your horse even-loads his feet. It’s important that you feel the balance, and you, nor the horse, can feel the balance when there is tenseness or tightness in your or his muscles.

And when you feel that balance, then your horse is with you – almost trapped in the moment. It’s a pretty powerful experience.

Annie: That sounds interesting. How did you get to this then?

Tom: Well, I hate to say it but I read it in a book. But really I had to get to it because I was stuck with some work I was doing with my horse.

Annie: Well, tell me about the work, and then tell me about the book.

Tom: OK I will. The thing that got me to it was that I could turn my horse to the right on a circle no problem, but when I turned her to the left she fell over through her shoulder every single time. Sounds simple to me now, but back then I couldn’t work it out at all. So once I explained to her the cues for the two different ways of turning that she was giving me, I suddenly had both options on both sides. At the same time I had to work hard at getting her ‘front to back’ balance sorted. I had inadvertently taught her to overbend at the poll which gave her no option but to be front end heavy. She was also travelling behind the bit which made communication through the reins very difficult. Now I have her very happy with the bit right there, no pressure from either of us, but the bit is right there, happily sitting in her mouth and she is happy with it there too, so where the bit goes her head goes, so it’s all pretty straightforward really. Maybe I should add there – the theory is pretty straightforward, anyway.

Annie: I’ve never really understood the bit. Everyone seems to talk in very vague ways about it.

Tom: Yes, I couldn’t agree with you more about that. What the heck does all that stuff about ‘seeking the bit’ mean, or ‘accepting the bit’. Why don’t people just say what they mean. I sometimes think it’s because maybe they don’t know.

See, some people want their horse to lean on the bit. Well, if you want balance, leaning on the bit is no good. That’s like providing a fifth leg. We need the horse balanced evenly on all four feet, and what’s more, do you really want the job of holding up your horses head. Then other people want their horse behind the bit – I mean by that that the horse is slightly scared of the bit and shies back off it. I found it impossible to have the communication that I want with my horse like that.

When I came across the idea of having my horse completely happy and comfortable with the bit resting in his mouth, and have him happy to follow it wherever I take it, well, that was some kind of revelation for me. Also, the idea of my horse having a soft mobile relaxed jaw is just great. A horse in balance will hold no tension anywhere, and the starting point is his mouth.

Annie: And the book?

Tom: Ooooh, maybe I won’t tell you that. I’ll just pretend I worked all this stuff out on my own. Oh OK, I’ll tell you, but promise not to tell anyone else OK. Actually I’m happy to tell you everything. I’ve told loads of people and most of them walk off like I hadn’t said anything. The odd one or two think it might be useful, and then the odd one of them tries it out. Then the odd one of them sticks with it, and that is fantastic. See, I look at what everyone else is up too and I just think, actually what we are working towards is pretty good really – riding a horse in freedom, or what the French might call ‘legerite’.

The guys you want to read are Francois Baucher, Phillipe Karl, Anje Beran, and Jean Claude Racinet. There’s probably others, but I’d stick my neck out here and say Baucher got this sorted initially. The guy whose book explains it really clearly, for me anyway, is Philippe Karl – I might go as far to say, and bear in mind I have never met him, he is a quite a clever guy. We basically worked through the parts of his book and DVDs that applied to where we were at with our horses. He explains everything – all about balance – I found the whole book, or at least a lot of the book, absolutely spot on. Obviously the more advanced stuff went straight over my head, but that’s actually what I like about this stuff – it’s useful whatever level of horsemanship you are operating at.

Annie: Wow, you’re quite keen on that aren’t you! So where is all this leading to.

Tom: Well, I wouldn’t know where it might be leading to. For me I just chip away slowly at me and my horse – trying to improve what I’m doing. I’m not ambitious really – I just enjoy the feeling when things are going well between me and my horse.

Annie: Thanks Tom, I’ve enjoyed the interview. Shall we pencil another in for a couple of years time.

Tom: Hahaha, Could do I guess. It’s always fun chatting with you.


Anonymous said...

Great stuff! Hope you don't mind if I link to it.

juliette said...

Thanks Kate - for linking me here. Excellent thoughts, Tom!

Lori Skoog said...

I arrived here through Kate. You make a lot of sense! Jean Claude Racinet did a clinic at our farm many years ago...stayed with us and shared many stories from his earlier days. You have found some great books, but have already figured out a lot on your own. Kudos!

jill said...

Amen again Tom! I think I would really enjoy meeting and riding with you one day. I have really enjoyed our exchanges over the blog site.
Just yesterday I was working on this with my horse. Just balance and softness in the arena.
It is all supposed to be simple and a flow isn't it? I posted a video on my blog that you might find interesting. I've been noodling it over for a day or so now. See what ya think...

Di said...

Hi Tom
Which PK book did you read? I have his DVD's, like them a lot and try to train with his methods.

lytha said...

i would love the opportunity to see philippe karl in person - he was on a documentary on german television recently and i was thrilled at what he had to say. he said 10 minutes of rollkur (LDR) being allowed is the same thing as 10 minutes of wife-beating being allowed. then he went on to work a previously abused horse in a double bridle with no cavesson! he also speaks english so that would be a plus for me.

~lytha in germany

Marissa said...

Kate sent me here too, what a fantastic post! I like the idea of the bit resting in the horse's mouth and the horse following wherever it goes. I am definitely going to look into some of those books. I also love the example about sitting on a ball that could go any way. That does sound good.

juliette said...

Thanks Tom for the kind words about my posters. The Underground posters of that era are my inspiration. I saw my first tube vintage posters in a book called "Poems on the Underground" circa 1995. I fell in love with one that said "Book to Golder's Green". Thanks to photoshop, I can finally create what I have been carrying around in my head all these years!

CCC said...

I'm here cause of Kate, too. I'm thinking hard about how that applies to me. I have always known about balance like you explained it. It is spectacular to see a really balanced horse with a rider, unfortunately it is a rare thing. I find work, cow work, is best done from that place of balance, never know which way the cow/ball will roll. Horses are naturally balanced, I think it's us who aren't. If we can get to a place of non-interferance horses can do spectacular things with us on their backs.

tom909 said...

Kate, Thanks for the link! I really appreciate your support.

Juliette, Thanks for your comment. Love your posters btw.

Lori, Thanks for your kind comment. Can you remember much about the Raciner clinic?

Jill, When I first started out doing this I literally tried to get halt to walk, then a few steps and a halt, in balance - now I am trying to get a few moves in balance too. It's really good fun. A lot of the time I can feel that my horse just can't make it without falling on to her front end (that might be my fault). The thing is if I get it right, we are one unit, not two separate beings. The horse I mainly ride is quite a spooky horse so I am always a little sort of 'ready for action' which isn't the best way to be I don't reckon, but when she (and I) are both on form together I feel like the possibilities are huge. Hacking out, it has really made a difference - doing gates or going over rough ground - we are like a different outfit.

Di, 'Twisted Truths of Modern Dressage' is the book to get. It has brilliant explanations of balance, and how to set up the relationship with the bit and so on.

Lytha, I heard about that documentary. It was about the horse that had its jaw broken by rough hands, and then PK rehabilitated him. I don't want to stray into the realms of 'horse trainer worship' but I saw a DVD recently of PK working in Australia - he is a pretty cool horseman.

Marissa, once you open up this box things really begin to change.

CCC, I just went to your blog. WOW!!!!!!!!

'you know what you are doing must be good when people offer to pay to do what you are getting paid for'. Nice quote.

What you are doing makes me feel like a real small timer - I have twelve cows out on 600 acres.
Yes, I agree with you - get your balance and you are as out of the way of the horse as you can be really.

Anonymous said...

I've also taken the liberty of adding a link to your post under my Softness sidebar - it fits right in, I think!

steve said...

Just a post to say..please keep doing what you and Sarah are doing Tom..not just in your work, but in the way you write about it and make it accessible to the rest of us. I just think your right, I can't explain technically why, but what I saw and heard on your course and when I read what you say about balance it just makes sense. And if they are physically balanced I think they are mentally balanced, or at least they have the opportunity to be. I am not sure why that link is so strong, but as the horses get ever more "difficult" and "naughty" what do the owners do??..strap them down amd add even more corrective equipment to control just becomes a vicious circle that hardens the horse and as importantly the relationship the owner has with the horse..the opportunity for balance and softness get further and further away. I think what you write gives owners the chance to look again at what they are doing with their horses...and see things in a different way..and see what they need to do to change..that's why what you do is so important..Thanks again.

tom909 said...

Steve, Thanks for your kind comments, and yep, I reckon you got it about right there with the rest of it.
A lot of people are doing a lot of things with horses, but there is no doubt in my mind that the 'true' aim of training a horse should be to have it able to do what you want it to do, in lightness. Learning how to implement that aim - well, that's the challenge, but recognising it as the aim surely means we have made a start.

Anonymous said...

That bending-into-balance thing is so interesting- it's amazing how much changes when you get the horse working on a correct bend rather than trying to be a series of straight lines. It seems to me that's where they really become able to give you access to their shoulders.

pony_girl_7 said...

I really like this blog entry. It makes loads of sense, in a lot of ways. Being in the moment with the pony, is the best way to ride I find! Even if I can't work out how I got there!! LOL

sandown said...

Hi Tom, Just wanted to say thanks for passing on the image Mark Rashid gave you about sitting on a ball. I found it much easier to visualise when I'm riding than all that 'horse in balance' stuff and it's helped me and my ex-racehorse tonnes already. When I want him to walk out more I imagine my weight moving back a bit to allow the ball to roll forwards and when I want to slow the pace down I think about my seat being slightly to the front of the ball to prevent forward movement. It's been working a treat! Well in walk anyway. That ball's not quite so easy to control in the faster paces yet!